Confession: I am 211 pages behind the herd. And this is after spending several hours this week trying desperately to catch up. But here I am, determined to keep plugging away and determined to finish.
In the Kenyon speech, Wallace talks about the “day in, day out” of adult life. The unglamorous, unsexy parts that no one talks about, much less writes about in a novel. And yet, these are the things that occupy much of our attention and time as adults. As Wallace puts it on page 451, “It’s all the sort of thing that’s uninteresting unless you’re the one responsible.” For Charles Tavis, and James O. Incandenza before him, that uninteresting stuff was the day-to-day operation of an elite tennis academy. For the rest of us, it’s doing dishes or driving to work or paying the bills or… All of it boring as the day is long, but all of it incredibly necessary. And, if we allow it to be, incredibly meaningful.
I played basketball (and I use the word “played” in the loosest of terms) during my freshman, sophomore, and senior years (I sat out my junior year for personal reasons). My senior season, the only time we could get a gym for practice (I went to a small private school that did not have its own gym) was at 5:30am at the YMCA. Every morning, two-and-a-half hours of basketball drills before racing home to shower and make it to first period by 8:30am. So I understand the agony of those ETA students dragging themselves out of their warm beds for morning drills (pages 452-461).
But I also understand the importance of that sort of disciplined regiment. All those 5:30am practices paid off to the tune of one of the best seasons in school history. Undefeated in league and CIF playoff semifinalists.
So I understand these ten pages in the context of the lives of the ETA students and their pursuit of fortune and glory on the tennis court. But in the context of a 1000+ page novel… yeah, not so much. What the hell, Dave (again, Wallace not Laird)?
But then I was taken back like six pages to Bob Death telling Don Gately a slightly more adult version of the “wise older fish” story (the younger fish drops an f-bomb), which then took me back to the Kenyon speech and all that mindfulness stuff. The whole point being that even the most mundane activities can have deeply profound meaning, if we’re only patient enough and attentive enough to take notice.
So what do these ten pages of detailed description of morning tennis drills mean? To be honest (and this has certainly turned into the forum for honesty for me), I have no idea. I skimmed those pages. I am more an Ennet House guy, at least on this reading of IJ, so I really dug into Don Gately’s backstory.
But my point is that there is something of meaning and significance in anything and everything. Whether it is participating in morning tennis drills, or simply reading about it. We just have to keep reminding ourselves: